David Wallace-Wells | How Big of a Climate Betrayal Is the Willow Oil Project? – The New York Times

Opinion Writer

“On Monday, when President Biden approved ConocoPhillips’s $8 billion plan to extract 600 million barrels of oil from federal lands in Alaska, the announcement landed simultaneously with the thud of betrayal and the air of inevitability. On the campaign trail, Biden had promised “no more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period.” But for all the talk about the renewables boom and the green transition, and all the money pouring into them as well, there has been little concerted effort, in the United States at least, to really draw down our profligate use of the stuff that is actually poisoning the climate: fossil fuels.

The green transition is indeed rapidly underway — more rapidly than many advocates believed possible just a few years ago. But on its own, even infinite clean energy doesn’t change anything about emissions trajectories or global warming. For that, it has to replace the dirty kind. And as Mark Paul and Lina Moe write in a new report for the Climate and Community Project, renewable subsidies can get you only so far, no matter how generous they are; at some point, if you are serious about any of our stated climate goals, you have to move on to a program of drawdown. In their report, Paul and Moe call this a “supply side” approach to decarbonization. You may recognize the principle from the old activist slogan “Keep it in the ground.”

American emissions have been declining steadily since 2005, primarily because of natural gas replacing coal for electricity generation. But the decline has been relatively slow and pockmarked by concessions to the fossil fuel industry and climate hypocrisy. Last year, as the U.S. climate envoy John Kerry lectured the nations of sub-Saharan Africa about the risks of fossil fuel development, the United States approved more oil and gas expansion than any other nation in the world, according to Oil Change International. It is already the world’s largest producer of oil and gas and the third-largest consumer of coal. This year, it will also become the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas.”

David Wallace-Wells | Europe Turned an Energy Crisis Into a Green Energy Sprint – The New York Times

Opinion Writer

“This was supposed to be a winter of energy crisis in Europe. Beginning last spring, not long after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the fear of gas shortages spread across the continent, along with fears of what might follow. The coming winter crunch was compared to wartime, with energy experts less focused on whether it would bring rationing than how much. Others suggested that spectacular price spikes would mean suspensions of energy markets and that the continent as a whole would experience not a “cost of living crisis” but a crisis of “molecules” — in which there wasn’t enough energy to be had, no matter the price. A recession was simply taken for granted among the commentariat — almost like a badge of honor demonstrating the moral valor of standing up to Vladimir Putin.

Europe as a whole has indeed endured a lot through the cold months: dramatic spikes in energy prices, with wholesale prices for electricity and gas growing as much as 15-fold, often accompanied by similar spikes in government relief. Countries from Germany to Denmark and Italy spent more than 5 percent of G.D.P. to shield citizens from the crunch, enacting public conservation measures that darkened city streets and limited power use in other ways. In Britain, average bills were expected to grow by 80 percent before the government artificially lowered the average annual household energy bill to about $3,000. Across the continent, people turned their thermostats down and snuggled with hot water bottles at night. Industry was dialed back in places but also often found alternative power supplies.

All told, though, the worst has not come to pass. There were no blackouts, as experts were warning as recently as December. There was no significant mortality from the cold. Industrial production took some hits but didn’t disappear, and indeed, economic forecasters who were six months ago almost unanimously predicting a continentwide recession are now almost unanimously predicting ongoing, if limited, economic growth. There are still worries about whether next winter will prove as manageable as this one, but natural gas storage levels have remained high for months, and gas prices have now fallen back to where they were in September of 2021, several months before the invasion.

What is perhaps most remarkable is that the European Union has not just managed to avert a crisis but has actually “turbocharged the green transition,” as The Economist recently put it, potentially enough to knock a full decade off the continent’s decarbonization timeline.”

David Wallace-Wells | Greta Thunberg: ‘The World Is Getting More Grim by the Day’ – The New York Times

Opinion Writer

You’re reading the David Wallace-Wells newsletter, for Times subscribers only.  The best-selling science writer and essayist explores climate change, technology, the future of the planet and how we live on it.

There is genuinely no precedent in the modern history of geopolitics for the climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Four and a half years ago, she began “striking” outside of Swedish parliament — a single teenager with a single sign. She was 15. In just a few months, she had made her mark at the United Nations climate conference in Poland: “You are not mature enough to tell it like it is,” she told the assembled diplomats and negotiators, “even that burden you leave to us children.”

By the time she spoke at Davos that January, excoriating the world — “I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is” — she had become the face of the global climate movement, giving it an entirely new generational life and scale. She led weekly marches across the globe that drew millions of people through 2019 and helped force the world’s most powerful people to at least pay lip service to what they now called a climate crisis.

David Wallace-Wells | Britain’s Cautionary Tale of Self-Destruction – The New York Times

Opinion Writer

“In December, as many as 500 patients per week were dying in Britain because of E.R. waits, according to the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, a figure rivaling (and perhaps surpassing) the death toll from Covid-19. On average, English ambulances were taking an hour and a half to respond to stroke and heart-attack calls, compared with a target time of 18 minutes; nationwide, 10 times as many patients spent more than four hours waiting in emergency rooms as did in 2011. The waiting list for scheduled treatments recently passed seven million — more than 10 percent of the country — prompting nurses to strike. The National Health Service has been in crisis for years, but over the holidays, as wait times spiked, the crisis moved to the very center of a narrative of national decline.

Post-Covid, the geopolitical order has been thrown into tumult. At the beginning of the pandemic, commentators wondered about the fate of the United States, its indifferent political leadership and its apparently diminished “state capacity.” Lately, they have focused more on the sudden weakness of China: its population in decline, its economy struggling more than it has in decades, its “zero Covid” reversal a sign of both political weakness and political overreach, depending on whom you ask.

But the descent of Britain is in many ways more dramatic. By the end of next year, the average British family will be less well off than the average Slovenian one, according to a recent analysis by John Burn-Murdoch at The Financial Times; by the end of this decade, the average British family will have a lower standard of living than the average Polish one.”

David Lindsay: Impressive columne, but why. Here the top comments, helps move the analysis along.

Minneapolis Mom
Mpls MNJan. 25

Its interesting how Britain’s decline in real wages coincides closely with the dramatic drop in their corporate tax rates – from 30% in 2008 to 19% today. Conservatives follow the same recipe everywhere – fund tax reductions on corporations and the wealthy by cutting government programs. Motivate voters with xenophobic fear-of-the-other tropes. Rinse and repeat.

15 Replies974 Recommended

David Wallace-Wells | Is Peak Climate Alarmism Behind Us? – The New York Times

Opinion Writer

“It wasn’t so long ago that the world was truly on fire with climate alarm. In September 2019, millions of people around the world participated in a global climate strike, the largest ever, calling for immediate World War II-scale mobilization against the climate crisis in more than 150 countries. A week later, several million marched again. The marches had been organized by Fridays for Future, the youth movement founded by Greta Thunberg, which had been striking every week all year and drawing tens or even hundreds of thousands of protests in a given city.

If Thunberg was the patron saint of this new global climate protest army, Extinction Rebellion was its radical flank. The group announced itself in the fall of 2018, as Thunberg was first gaining attention in Stockholm, with a series of protests in London designed to shut down the city center and force a frank conversation about the state of the climate crisis. “Tell the truth” was the group’s chief demand.

XR was a self-consciously radical outfit, decentralized in structure, and blockaded highways and stock exchanges and disrupted subway service, among other protests. The approach incurred a cost, and much of the British public turned against the group. But it also helped move the needle of public opinion on climate somewhat dramatically in Britain and generated a series of commitments from even the conservative governments under Prime Ministers Theresa May and Boris Johnson. More recently, its tactics have been embraced and replicated by a new suite of disruptive climate groups: Insulate Britain, Scientist Rebellion and Just Stop Oil, which has tossed soup onto museum canvases.

Then, on New Year’s Eve, XR U.K. made a surprise announcement: “We quit.”

“Despite the blaring alarm on the climate and ecological emergency ringing loud and clear, very little has changed,” the group declared in a statement. “As we ring in the New Year, we make a controversial resolution to temporarily shift away from public disruption as a primary tactic.” Instead, the group declared it was going to focus on mass mobilization to pressure those in power rather than shaming or inconveniencing everyday citizens.

In certain ways, the turn reflected debates that have preoccupied the group’s leadership for years. The former XR spokesperson Rupert Read has spent much of the last few years advocating for a “moderate flank” — a more broad-based climate movement less defined by its most radical members. But the XR co-founder Roger Hallam, who left the group to found Just Stop Oil, has been subtweeting the announcement from prison. (“Disruption is not a tactic,” he wrote recently, but “a way of being in the face of the infinity of evil.”) Elsewhere, other groups have staged disruptive protests, as in Germany, where police and protesters have clashed near an open-pit coal mine and Greta Thunberg has been arrested twice.

This month, I spoke to Clare Farrell, a co-founder of XR, and Alanna Byrne, who coordinates its press team, about the strategic turn and why the group believes the time for it is now. This conversation below has been edited and condensed.

Let’s just start narrowly with the statement itself. The headline is a little bit of a red herring. What are you quitting and where did that decision come from?

Alanna Byrne: The media have framed it as us saying we’re stopping disruption altogether, which isn’t exactly right. What we’re saying is that we’re going to take a step back from disrupting the public in the way that we have been — disrupting roads and bridges and getting in the way of people going about their day-to-day business — and instead going straight to government. Disrupting the perpetrators more. We’re working toward a big date in April where we’re aiming to get 100,000 people to come to Parliament.

What is prompting that change of focus?

Clare Farrell: I think people all over the world have been looking at Britain and going: What are you doing?

Opening a new coal mine in Cumbria, for instance, the first new mine in 30 years.

Farrell: It’s very, very frightening. And at the same time, obviously, we’ve got a cost of living crisis. We’ve got people threatening to strike on their energy bills. We’ve got workers on strike in all sectors, it feels like. And we’ve also got a kind of nature and conservation space that is messaging to the public that the government has declared war on nature itself, which is quite a revolutionary language for the conservation N.G.O. sector. There’s an awful lot of people in the U.K. who all have a lot in common, in that the political system isn’t meeting any of their demands.

But there is a massive democratic deficit. And we think that there’s a big opportunity now to talk about the fact that we are a pro-democracy movement — that we have a democratic solution that we propose for citizens to be involved in the decision making about what should be done to face up to these crises. I think people are ready to look at politics and say, surely we could do this differently. And the system we have is completely out of touch and out of date.

Byrne: And it also feels vital and necessary to be able to look at your own strategy and be honest, to say what’s working and what isn’t, and sometimes to say, let’s just try something else. I think that’s where we’re at.

Farrell: We used to talk about shifting the Overton window. I think we have successfully shifted that.

That gets to something else I wanted to ask you about. In the statement, you quite prominently say nothing’s changed. And I know what you mean, in the sense that emissions are still going up and mostly what we have is new rhetorical commitments, both in the public and the private sector. But I also agree with what you just said: that the Overton window has shifted, as has climate policy, if not as much as you or I would hope for. In part because of the radical commitments of activists in particular, we also now have a much more open space for people to express concern or engage on climate issues without having to lie down in front of S.U.V.s, glue themselves to banks or throw paint in museums. That all seems to me to be quite a big deal — not “nothing has changed” so much as “not enough has changed.”

Byrne: The reality is, in the past four years, tons has changed in terms of public awareness and engagement. Shifting from climate change to climate emergency was a radical shift when we first came onto the scene. But even as people become more and more aware, the reality is, as you’ve just said, emissions are still rising. And here in the U.K., certainly, the government is backpedaling on climate progress. I think we have a responsibility as sort of climate communicators in this space to be radically honest and true to that first principle, which is to tell the truth. And the truth is, four years later, nothing much has changed, even though people are more aware than ever.

We know from polling that people across the U.K. are terrified of the climate crisis, but the reality is that those people aren’t showing up — they’re not coming out on the street. So I think we have to say to ourselves, if people aren’t going to come and put their arm in a lock or glue themselves to something, how do we create a space where people can show up?

There’s also a big question about demands, isn’t there? What I mean is it’s not just a matter of whether there are more people who are willing to go to a protest outside of Parliament than there are who are willing to lie down in a busy intersection; undoubtedly there are. It’s also a matter of how many people want a 1.5-degree Celsius pathway and how many people would be satisfied with a two-degree pathway, and how many people would be satisfied just knowing that policy is moving in the right direction even if it points somewhere north of two degrees.

Farrell: The “tell the truth” demand was never about having a declaration of emergency with nothing to follow it up. It was about working really hard to get the public to actually understand the position that they find themselves in — and playing enormous amounts of catch-up, because of the obfuscation that the fossil fuel industry’s perpetuated, because of the failure of the media, because of a media that actually helped the most deadly campaign of disinformation, in my opinion, in all human history. Because of all that, what was required was a major effort on public information. If people don’t understand why they need to make these drastic policy changes, obviously they’re not going to advocate for them. But if they have the full facts about where they find themselves sitting in the context of human history, where we’re going, how soon we’re headed there, then they will back those policies.

And to me that has a lot to do with advocating for a democracy that isn’t just more inclusive and more representative and more just but also wanting to have a democratic society where more people have better access to the truth and to information and to really understand what needs to happen and why.

How much progress has been made in informing the public, in your view?

Farrell: To me, the general public has a very basic understanding of the causes and the likely impacts of climate change, but I really don’t think that people have got their head around how fast it’s happening.

I think statistical scientific analysis has been part of the problem, frankly, because people have been able to use uncertainty to say, well, you’re not sure. They’ve used that weak point as an intellectual leverage point to screw us all.

But it’s not a statistical analysis problem, it’s a risk problem. And I don’t think we’ve had a decent public discourse on risk. Even if there’s a 0.05 percent chance that you kill everyone, you don’t do that thing — you don’t do that project, you don’t build that bridge, you don’t get on that plane. But talk to people from the insurance sector and they will tell you that the whole of humanity is acting like a crazy person. It’s a total madness that we’ve allowed the thinking to be so poor.

But if there’s still so much misunderstanding, why is that then a moment to take a moderate turn, rather than calling out the hypocrisy and malfeasance a little bit more aggressively?

Farrell: I fully intend to carry on speaking about the crisis in that way.

Byrne: In all honesty, as much as people are becoming more aware here, there does feel like there’s a complacency where people still feel like someone else is going to do it for them. People are waiting for the next election as though that’s going to be the thing that’s going to fix everything. And I think part of our role right now is to say that’s not necessarily going to fix everything. We need you to fully engage with this and come out onto the street.

For me, the statement is quite clear that it’s a short time that we are saying that we’ll do this in order to build up to something in April and then reassess.

So your message to Parliament is, basically: There are many more people who have much greater demands on climate than you might think. Is that right?

Farrell: Completely. But in addition to pushing that Overton window about what’s a reasonable ask of a political system, there’s also pushing the conversation about the fact that the systematic problems of our politics as it is set up today. Our politics is completely incapable of doing anything about these problems in a short space of time, which is when it needs to happen.”  -30-

David Wallace-Wells | Electric Vehicles Keep Defying Almost Everyone’s Predictions – The New York Times

Opinion Writer

“It is striking that in the same year that Tesla’s stock price dropped by about two-thirds, destroying more than $700 billion in market value, the global market for electric vehicles — which for so long the company seemed almost to embody — actually boomed.

Boom may not even adequately communicate what happened. Around the world, E.V. sales were projected to have grown 60 percent in 2022, according to a BloombergNEF report prepared ahead of the 2022 U.N. climate conference COP27, bringing total sales over 10 million. There are now almost 30 million electric vehicles on the road in total, up from just 10 million at the end of 2020. E.V. market share has also tripled since 2020.

The pandemic years can feel a bit like a vacuum, but there are almost three times as many E.V.s on the world’s roads now as there were when Covid vaccines were first approved, and what looked not that long ago like a climate pipe dream is now undeniably underway: a genuine transition away from fossil-fueled transportation. This week, the Biden administration released a blueprint toward a net zero transportation sector by 2050. It’s an ambitious goal, especially for such a car-intoxicated culture as ours. But it’s also one that, thanks to trends elsewhere in the world, is beginning to seem more and more plausible, at least on the E.V. front.

In Norway, electric vehicles now represent four out of every five new cars sold; the figure was just one in five as recently as 2016. In Germany, more than 55 percent of new cars registered in December were electric or hybrid. In China, where more electric vehicles are sold than everywhere else in the world combined, the rise is perhaps even more dramatic: from 3.5 percent of the market at the beginning of 2020 to 20.3 percent at the beginning of 2022. And growing, of course: Nearly twice as many electric vehicles were sold last year in China as in the year before. The country also exported $3.2 billion worth of E.V.s last November alone, more than double the exports of the previous November. Its largest single manufacturer, BYD, has surpassed Tesla for global market share — so perhaps it should not be so surprising that Tesla’s stock is dimming while the global outlook is so sunny.”

David LIndsay: This is good news. Here is the most popular comment:

Richard Blaine Not NYC Jan. 11

We rode to work in electric cars for 25 years. . They weren’t expensive at all. They didn’t require batteries. We didn’t have to worry about parking or repairs. We had a professional chauffeur, too. . That’s the beauty of an electrified catenary, the miracle of steel wheels on steel rails, and the proper provision of public transit. . Electric automobiles are probably not the solution to Climate Change, although they may be part of it. . The bigger part of the solution is reliable, frequent, electrified public transit.

6 Replies506 Recommended

David Wallace-Wells | Our History of the Pandemic Is a Mess – The New York Times

Opinion Writer

You’re reading the David Wallace-Wells newsletter, for Times subscribers only.  The best-selling science writer and essayist explores climate change, technology, the future of the planet and how we live on it.

We are entering the fourth year of the pandemic, believe it or not: Freshmen are now seniors, toddlers now kindergartners and medical students now doctors. We’ve completed two American election cycles and one World Cup cycle. Army volunteers are nearing the end of their active-duty commitment. It’s been a long haul but in other ways a short jump: Three years is not so much time that it should be hard to clearly remember what happened. And yet it seems to me, on many important points our conventional pandemic history is already quite smudged.

David ace-Wells | Has Climate Change Blinded Us to the Biodiversity Crisis? – The New York Times

Opinion Writer

“Perhaps you saw the memes, circulating like new variants of anxiety in the early months of the pandemic: a series of tidal waves, one following another and each taller than the last. The first wave represented Covid-19; behind it, and larger, the economic recession that would supposedly follow; then, a towering wave for climate change; and then, behind that and largest still, biodiversity collapse.

For the kind of person who has spent the past few years increasingly alarmed about climate, it might be strange to think of anything as looming larger than warming, which in recent decades has seemed to subsume not only all other ecological crises in the collective cultural imagination but also the existential fate of the species and the planet. The United Nations’ 15th international biodiversity conference just concluded in Montreal, and it received only a fraction of the press coverage lavished on the COP27 climate conference recently held in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. That imbalance may seem intuitive, given one of the core principles of climate action in the post-Paris-agreement era: that decarbonization should be the environmental goal above all others, and might even offer a silver bullet to solve (or at least alleviate) all sorts of other problems, from mass extinction and insect collapse to air pollution and global inequality.”

“. . . . . . The problem is that warming is just one of the many ways that human civilization is stripping the planet of its biological complexity. In fact, last December, in a commentary published in Conservation Letters, a group of biologists called climate change a “myopic lens” through which to view the biological decline of the planet and called warming far from “the most important horseman of the biodiversity apocalypse” — indeed more of a “mule,” powerful but slow. “The current perception that climate change is the principal threat to biodiversity is at best premature,” the authors wrote. “Although highly relevant, it detracts focus and effort from the primary threats: habitat destruction and overexploitation.”

Because we all live in the world as it is today, regarding both its dimly remembered past and its uncertain future from the relatively stable-seeming vantage of the present, it can be hard to understand the scope of even recent loss. But according to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report, which looks at studies of some 32,000 species worldwide, vertebrate populations have declined on average by 69 percent since just 1970; since I was born in 1982, the decline has been more than 50 percent. In some ecosystems, the collapse of vertebrates has been even more drastic: In Latin America and the Caribbean, for instance, the studied populations have fallen on average by 94 percent since 1970, while among freshwater species that live in the world’s rivers and lakes, the estimated decline has been 83 percent.

As many as a million animal and plant species currently face the threat of extinction, according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (I.P.B.E.S.), a figure that translates to about 13 percent of bird species, 25 percent of mammals and 31 percent of sharks and rays. Insects are dying off, too — possibly more than 50 percent of them since 1970.”

We’re on our way to a global carbon surveillance state – David Wallace-Wells – NYT

Author Headshot By David Wallace-Wells
“For decades, those of us wondering why so little action had been taken to reduce carbon emissions, and why the public felt so little urgency about that failure, would sometimes lament that carbon dioxide was invisible. Unlike the pollution that smogged up cities, set rivers on fire and inspired the Clean Air and Water Acts here and similar legislation abroad, the stuff that was damaging the climate was being put into the atmosphere without anyone really seeing it.
That’s why one of the most fascinating developments from this year’s major climate conference, COP27, which kicked off Nov. 6 with the U.N. secretary general António Guterres declaring that the world was on a “highway to climate hell,” is a new online tool released by the nonprofit coalition Climate Trace that allows us to see emissions in near-real time.
For a while, we’ve used ballpark estimates for emissions from countries, industries and the planet as a whole. The point of the Climate Trace project is to bring it down to the level of individual polluting facilities: to make it possible to track climate-damaging carbon released from more than 72,000 “steel and cement factories, power plants, oil and gas fields, cargo ships, cattle feedlots,” as The Times put it — to name just a handful of the sources.”

Source: We’re on our way to a global carbon surveillance state

David Wallace-Wells | The Coldhearted Carbon Math – The New York Times

Opinion Writer

The best-selling science writer and essayist explores climate change, technology, the future of the planet and how we live on it.

“Last November in Glasgow, the annual United Nations climate conference ended with its president, Alok Sharma, declaring that the global goal of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius had been just barely kept alive. “Its pulse is weak,” he said.

This week in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, delegates reconvened for COP27, this year’s conference, amid a flurry of confident assertions that the same goal — which has energized and mobilized a global generation of activists and provides the conventional standard for judging progress on emissions — was now dead.

“Say goodbye to 1.5° C,” The Economist intoned on a cover this month, in an edition that called climate adaptation “the challenge of our age” and also raised the specter of cooling the planet with geoengineering. With an image of the flooded Cologne Cathedral — repurposed from a 1986 issue warning of a coming “Klima-Katastrophe” — the November cover of Der Spiegel announced that the target would be missed and advised, grimly: “Save yourself, those who can.” The United Nations secretary general António Guterres, who has spent the past few years raising the rhetorical stakesdeclared on Monday that “we are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.”

This kind of rhetoric, designed to focus attention and clarify the stakes of inaction, can also make things murky. What is the line between climate danger and climate disaster? Or between climate normal and climate disruption, and climate catastrophe and climate apocalypse? Is “climate hell” what awaits us past 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels, or past 2.0 degrees, or at the level the U.N. expects the world’s current policy commitments to take us this century, 2.6 degrees?”